The need for approval is based on a single assumption. “Don’t trust yourself–check it out with someone else first.” Our culture is one that reinforces approval-seeking behavior as a standard of life. Independent thinking is not only unconventional, it is the enemy of the very institutions that constitute the bulwark of our society. If you’ve grown up in this society, you’ve been tainted by this attribute. “Don’t swear by yourself” is the essence of the need for tribute–and the backbone of our culture. Make someone else’s opinion more important than your own, then if you don’t get their approval, you have every reason to feel depressed, unworthy, or guilty, since they are more important than you.“Your Erroneous Zones,” p52, by Wayne Dyer
I first read “Your Erroneous Zones” a couple of years ago after finding the book at a thrift store. I had heard about it for years, in fact, I had been listening to Wayne Dyer for years, but I wanted to get back to the book that launched his career, so when I found it, I pounced on the chance to read it.
There are many useful ideas in his book, yet probably the one that stuck with me most is the importance of giving up our need for approval from others. As Dyer writes, it is okay to want people’s approval. After all, it’s fun to get, isn’t it? People think we are great, how lovely that is. Yet the problems arise when we feel that we need it, especially if it leads us to take actions in ways that go against our own instincts to please another.
I consider myself a very independent person, but I have been just as guilty of approval-seeking as anyone else. That is probably why I loved reading this idea so much when I read Dyer’s book. It is also part of why I started this 365 Day Blog project: I wanted to bust through my need for approval and show up every day as my authentic self out in cyberspace. In fact, this has helped a lot. I feel that I molted the old self that was so concerned about publishing certain things that I thought I wasn’t supposed to, mainly things that I thought might garner disapproval. Nowadays, when choosing topics for this blog, I pretty much let it all hang out–as long as the topic is basically positive and constructive. And of course it has to be something I am interested in writing about 🙂
At the same time, this is my blog. I rule the roost here. And I’ve grown accustomed to things this way. It’s one thing to be autonomous and do my own thing here. Yet while swimming in the sea of humanity, I can’t say with complete conviction that I am always immune to the pull of approval-seeking behavior. Yet every single day I aim to focus my mind on becoming stronger in my own belief in myself. One of the benefits of this blog is to continually articulate my values.
Out in the world, in the past I often struggled over these matters. I didn’t always know if my decisions were truly made for my sake, or if in fact they were made to get someone else’s approval. This bothered me a lot, as I fashioned myself as independent and “above worrying about what other people think.” In some ways, this was probably true, but in other ways, I was quite worried about what other people think.
The was the first big public “failure” of my life was when I dropped out of college. I had a lot of embarrassment over that, worrying that people would think badly of me. After all, I was the straight-A student and the valedictorian of my high school. At the same time, it was a greatly liberating experience, as it started me on my trajectory of personal growth and inner exploration. I imagined that I was cured of approval-seeking after that experience. Not so! Over the years, I have repeatedly found myself caught in unpleasant approval-seeking patterns.
However, it is getting better. This year, in addition to being kind to myself no matter what 🙂 , I aim to extinguish the dragon of approval-seeking. I aim to “say No to the good so I can say Yes to the great.” In other words, I aim to be true to myself, and only make choices that are in alignment with myself. In other words, choices that I do for me, even when they benefit other people. Not choices arising from approval-seeking. I know: bold proclamation, eh?
There is one piece of good news that will help me in accomplishing this: if I ever fail at extinguishing the dragon of approval-seeking, see rule no. 1: Be kind to yourself! In other words, I will forgive myself, clear my mind, and move forward. I believe how we act in the world is a skill just like any other, and can be honed and developed.
So let’s give a shout out to over-coming approval seeking and generate approval for ourselves!